Splatoon Review: Totally Fresh

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Squid v. Kid

Next up in Inkopolis is the Battle Dojo, a place for two local opponents to play a one-on-one balloon-popping match. One person plays with the GamePad, the other with a Wiimote. Splatoon has adapter support, so those who dislike the plain Wiimote can use most variations to play instead, and the game will prompt you to select the button configuration that best supports your adapter. Each player may select a weapon from the weapons you’ve purchased in Booyah Base so far, and the match begins.

The goal is to pop more balloons than your opponent in the time allotted. Large orange balloons appear within easy reach, and you receive a point for each one you pop. Seven balloons appear at a time, and a marker on the ground indicates where the next batch will appear. You can splat your opponent to get them out of the way, and make them lose points in the process. Points are doubled for the final minute of the match, and you can obtain power ups such as armor by breaking red boxes that appear randomly throughout the stage.

Of all the options for gameplay in Splatoon, Battle Dojo is definitely the weakest. It’s fun once…maybe twice, but it’s easy to lose interest when it’s just two people popping balloons with no clear reward or goal for the task. Battle Dojo is a nice idea and plays fine, but it makes you wish a different local multiplayer option had been selected for a game with so many obvious possibilities. The gameplay doesn’t suffer for having one person on a Wiimote, so after playing Battle Dojo, it seemed even more bizarre that Nintendo didn’t implement a local 4-player.

Stay Fresh!

And finally, online multiplayer–the feature meant to be the highlight of this game. There’s been lots of skepticism as to whether Nintendo would succeed at making a solid multiplayer shooter, and after hours and hours of matches I’m happy to say they have. I had a blast.

Match-making was really slow during reviews, but that’s because there were so few people playing at any one time. I saw a lot of the same people over and over. Once everyone gets the game and starts queueing, I anticipate matches to fire rapidly. When we did get a group together that was consistently queueing, there was hardly a wait at all. When there was, Splatoon graciously offers you a silly little 8-bit squid jump game on your GamePad to entertain you. For the review period, we were organized into teams based on average level. Though this did result in matches that were occasionally skewed painfully, for the most part, our teams were on even keel, making for a more fun and challenging experience. It’s impossible for one good player to carry a team, and that’s a good thing in Splatoon.

Online matches proceeded with almost no lag. I did have some problems in Blackbelly Skatepark in a certain corner where the ink wasn’t loading as fast as I could spray it, but other than that issue (which seems like a patchable fix since it’s just that area) everything ran smoothly.

I did encounter one pretty significant problem with online matches. Short of manually shutting off the Wii U, there’s no way to escape the lobby once you’re in if you have to go do something else. This results in players entering the match and then doing absolutely nothing for its duration. And the gap left by a single player, even if that player isn’t particularly skilled, is devastating. You need someone out on the map to warp to, to spray ink around, or to be a target for the other team. Without it, you’re toast. If someone decides to take a snack break, your team has probably lost.

The lack of voice chat, forgiving matchmaking, gentle learning curve, and Turf War structure mean that this isn’t a game that a lot of hardcore people can take over easily. This really is a family-friendly shooter.

To those chiding Nintendo for only including five maps–five is plenty for now. Each map is unique, with its own terrain quirks, and only two are available at a time for Regular Battles, with the maps changing every four hours. It took me quite awhile to learn the ins and outs of all five maps, and that was cramming as much play as possible into a few weeks. The game, as it is being released, has well over 40 hours of content. Splatoon is not incomplete. The upcoming maps and modes will add longevity, and keep good players on their toes.

Winning Regular Battles isn’t contingent on splatting other players. What matters is how much turf you cover. This means that even those who aren’t skilled at shooting others can contribute massively by just throwing ink around. Splatoon offers a generous choice of weapons for all types of players. My favorites by far are the roller–a melee weapon that lets you put down massive amounts of ink at once–and the Aerospray MG. Different weapons, sub-weapons, and specials are good on different maps, and I had a great time testing them all in different places to see what worked and what didn’t.

All Inklings are decked out in a top, a hat, and shoes. Each piece of equipment has a special ability attached to it, with others available to be unlocked through playing a lot of matches. Abilities may make you run or swim faster in squid form, may help you recharge ink more quickly, or perhaps give a longer duration on your special weapons. I kept seeing new abilities the more I played, and I’m still not sure I’ve seen them all, so there’s plenty of opportunity for character customization. On the downside, most of the special abilities weren’t obvious in gameplay until I had stacked the same one two or three times. A more noticeable buff would have been nice.

You are rewarded in currency and experience whether you win or lose based on the amount of turf you covered, with winners receiving a 300p bonus. Experience goes toward leveling your character up (which unlocks better equipment for purchase in Booyah Base), leveling up your equipment (unlocking more abilities), and raising your ranking in Ranked Battles. I was unable to test out Ranked Battles even though they were made available to reviewers, as there were never enough players online at a time. Ranked Battles in the actual game will be unlocked once enough players reach level 10.

Easy to pick up, hard to put down, Splatoon is definitely one of the Wii U’s shining titles.

The lack of voice chat, forgiving matchmaking, gentle learning curve, and Turf War structure mean that this isn’t a game that a lot of hardcore people can take over easily. You can play in matches with your friends, but unless you know eight people, you might not end up on the same team. Nintendo deliberately put limits in this game–on when Ranked Battles became available, on stages, and on playing with friends, so that a small percentage of top level players could not dominate every match. You’re not meant to put together all-star teams with unbeatable strategies and win every match. Instead, I found myself cooperating with strangers through non-verbal queues and making amazing last-minute comebacks, suffering crushing defeats as we desperately tried to hold our own spawn point, and laughing ridiculously as me and an opposing Inkling ran over each other with our rollers for the tenth time.


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Splatoon is pure fun. I have trouble getting hung up on “what Nintendo should have done” when I’m blasting brightly colored ink all over the place, splatting my opponents, and pulling off ridiculous stunts up and over buildings in squid form. It’s not perfect, but it’s darn good, and capable of reaching a wide audience with simple controls and goals, but high customization and plenty of opportunity for strategy. Easy to pick up, hard to put down, Splatoon is definitely one of the Wii U’s shining titles. I’m pumped to see the new maps Nintendo will be churning out, to try out Ranked Battle, and test my skills in the new match types they’ll be rolling out in August.

A copy of this game (and an amiibo) were provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.